Jesus Christ's Baptism
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18. Jesus Christ's Baptism

Dominical Sacraments

WavesThere are two "dominical sacraments." These are baptism and holy communion. Being dominical, from the Latin "dominicalis" and "dominus," means "being of the Lord" or "given by the Lord." So Jesus Christ's baptism was at Al-Maghtas, located in Jordan west of the Jordan River, otherwise known as Bethabara, the place of St John's baptizing and the original location of Jesus Christ's baptism. The institution of the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion took place in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. These two sacraments became critical focal points of Early Church life though there were some variations in how the church administered each in different parts of the Roman Empire. The Early Church's practice of a new believer's baptism happens today either by "water immersion" or "sprinkling with water." We see these best in the two conversion experiences of the Ethiopian eunuch and the Philippi jailor and his family.

The Ethiopian Eunuch

An angel told Philip to go to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, to meet an Ethiopian eunuch, the Queen's treasurer. "Candace" is the Ancient Greek term for "queen" or "royal woman." The eunuch had been worshipping in Jerusalem and was returning home. In Acts 8.27, we read, "So he started, and on his way, he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means "queen of the Ethiopians.") This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship." He was sitting in his chariot reading Isaiah 53.7-8, which says about the Messiah, "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment, he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished." Philip then asked the Ethiopian, "Do you understand what you are reading?" He said he did not ("How can I understand unless I have a teacher to teach me?"), and asked Philip to explain the text to him. Philip told him the Gospel of Jesus, and the Ethiopian asked for baptism. They went down into a water source, traditionally thought to be the Dhirweh fountain near Halhul, and Philip baptized him. Some manuscripts add that the Ethiopian said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" in verse 37, but most modern versions omit it, for the better manuscripts do not support it.

Simeon Bachos the Eunuch

After this, in Acts 8.39, Philip was suddenly taken away by the Spirit of the Lord, and the eunuch "went on his way rejoicing" (verse 39). Church Father Irenaeus of Lyons, in his book, "Adversus Haereses" or "Against the Heresies," an early anti-Gnostic theological work 3:12:8 of 180 AD, wrote regarding the Ethiopian eunuch. He said, "This man (Simeon Bachos the Eunuch) was also sent into the regions of Ethiopia, to preach what he had himself believed. He preached that there was one God preached by the prophets, but that the Son of this God had already made his appearance in human flesh, and had been led as a sheep to the slaughter; and all the other statements which the prophets made regarding Him." In Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo tradition, the Ethiopian Eunuch was referred to as Bachos and is known as an Ethiopian Jew with the name Simeon also called the Black, a term used in Acts 13.1, which reads, "Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been raised with Herod, the tetrarch) and Saul."

Baptism Location

One of the traditional sites of Jesus Christ's baptism is the Ein Hanya Spring. Others place the traditional site of baptism at the Dhirweh fountain, near Halhul. "Ethiopian" was a Greek term for black-skinned peoples generally, often applied to Kush (which was well known to Hebrews and frequently mentioned in the Hebrew Bible). The eunuch was not from the land today known as Ethiopia, which corresponds to the ancient Kingdom of Aksum, which conquered Kush in the fourth century. The first writer to call it Ethiopia was Philostorgius around 440. Some scholars, such as Frank M. Snowden, Jr., interpret the story as emphasizing that early Christian communities accepted members regardless of race: "Ethiopians were the yardstick by which antiquity measured colored peoples." Others, such as Clarice Martin, write that it is a commentary on the religion rather than its adherents, showing Christianity's geographical extent. Gay L. Byron says that Luke used the Ethiopian eunuch to indicate that salvation could extend even to Ethiopians and Blacks. David Tuesday Adamo suggests that the word used here, "aithiops," is best translated as "African." Rembrandt's painting called "The Baptism of the Eunuch" from 1626 AD shows the dark brown complexioned eunuch kneeling beside Philip next to a water source. A similar picture, "The Baptism of Queen Candace's Eunuch" (c 1625-1630), attributed to Hendrick an Balen and Jan Brueghel the Younger, shows the Ethiopian on one knee before Philip. He is pouring water over his head from a seashell.

Philippian Jailer

And then, we have the Philippian jailer's entire family's baptism. We read in Acts 16.25-40, "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison. At once, all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself! We are all here!" The jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and all the others in his house. At that hour of the night, the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately, he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God — he and his whole household." Acts 16.33 speaks of the Philippian jailor that "he and all his family were immediately baptized" when he believed in Christ. The jailor's family would probably have included all ages, including grandparents, infants, teenagers, servants, slaves, and even other relatives in his home. Infants and babies would have been under the household head's control and authority.

Paul's Roman Prison

Roman prisons had three compartments. One was called "communiora," which had light and fresh air. The second was called "interiora," with strong iron bars and locks. Paul and Silas were in the "tullainium," a dungeon where people were placed to die which was top security. Their feet were placed in stocks, which were a heavy piece of wood with holes similar to the medieval British stocks into which the prisoner's feet were placed and stretched in such a way as to cause constant agonizing pain. Despite all this pain, Paul and Silas praised God and prayed! Their spirits soared above their circumstances and surroundings. Their voices rose upon the night air in that prison, "and the prisoners were listening to them." The Scriptures do not reveal the identity of the jailer. Many Bible scholars believe that the jailer was a retired veteran Roman soldier. Philippi was a significant city chartered as a "Roman Colonial City." Old soldiers sought retirement in these cities. The jailer's position was most suitable for a veteran who had commanded in combat and proved his ability with men, and a fit soldier would have been the likely choice of the Roman officials. Most likely, this was an appointed position.

Inward Grace

Jesus himself commanded baptism as one of the two most important sacraments. Different denominations have different views as to how they should perform a baptism. Baptists practice believers' baptism of an adult by full immersion. In contrast, Anglicans and Roman Catholics generally conduct infant baptism with water sprinkled from a font on a baby, infant, or even an adult. Some denominations practice immersion and sprinkling, which is the present pattern in the Church of England.

Which Kind of Baptism?

Water of BaptismThere is no essential difference between the two baptism forms except for the godparents' role in infant baptism. In mainline churches such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian, and Lutheran churches, godparents make a solemn promise to lead the child to faith as they grow into adult life. Then they can make their own decision for Christ at Confirmation. All believing adults, as well as their infants and children, were baptized in the Early Church. Paul baptized the whole household of the Philippian jailor at one time. Later, during the first and second centuries, parents baptized their infants and babies. Society was dominated in early times by the patriarchs who controlled every aspect of their families and slaves. The household head decided the household religion, and their baptism included every household member. There are almost certainly different practices among various groups of Christians around the Roman Empire at the same time.

Refreshing Water

The Holy Spirit comes at baptism, and on many other occasions in our lives, to bless us. At Jesus Christ's baptism, the Holy Spirit came visibly in the form of a dove. Baptism's sacramental water hides beneath its ripples God's flowing blessing through the Spirit's work. It is a surprising and incomprehensible truth. The Holy Spirit's work brings about the renewal and development of all creation's every atom, repeating this constantly and invisibly for all life forms. The Holy Spirit's work enlivens all creation and engineers plant and animal life's rejuvenation. Without the Spirit's work, all creation would stop cold and dead instantaneously. Behind our secular society's "mother nature" smoke screen moves the real Holy Spirit worker. Mother nature never created a good harvest or a fall of rain. As the old hymn says with undeniable truth, "All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all."

Water Water!

Amazon RiverThere is a story about a boat adrift off the South American coast. The crew was dying of thirst. Another ship appeared and hailed it, asking if there was anything the crew needed. The sailors shouted back, "Water, water!" The sailors pointed over the side at the water. All around them was the mighty Amazon River's freshwater, which poured out many miles into the saltwater ocean. Nourishing fresh water was available right under them, but they were still dying of thirst. They did not know of the thirst-quenching stream. In the same way, the Holy Spirit's work is all around us, invisibly creating and renewing both us and our environment without us scarcely realizing it.✞

Invisible Grace

When we look closely enough, we find Christ's Body beneath the surface of many seemingly mundane objects, such as water, bread, wine, and even a wooden cross. The term "Body of Christ" is used in two different New Testament senses. It may refer to Jesus' statement in Luke 22.19-20 at the Last Supper when "he (Jesus) took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after the supper, he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, poured out for you.' We may note here that some manuscripts do not have "given for you" or "poured out for you," though it makes little difference to the meaning. The words "the Body of Christ" may also refer to the Christian Church. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.27 writes, "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." Here Saint Paul explains to Christians that they are the "outward and visible signs of inward invisible grace" and are sacraments themselves. There may be different interpretations by various denominations and churches of "bread and wine's meaning." Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), a prominent early Christian theologian, wrote about this in Sermon 262. "Christians are to see in the many grains, ground by the prayers of exorcism, moistened by the waters of baptism, and now united in the one eucharistic loaf, the image of themselves as Christ's Body, the Church." Saint Augustine had a very novel way of combining various sacraments into one belief statement.

New Testament Importance

Infant baptismAll the forms of Christ's sacramental Body have immense importance for the New Testament church. At the Twenty-First Century's beginning, sacraments are also portholes into God's being. A sacrament may be a divine grace bringer, God's undeserved gift in Christ by the Holy Spirit. When rediscovered, these sacramental models will provide what we call "the church" with a deep, inspirational understanding of the Mystical Body without leading us into superstitions and heresies. Holy Spirit baptism means being born of water, followed by the Holy Spirit's baptism. Both are outward and visible signs of an independent human being's inner holy life. John 3.5 says, "Jesus answered, 'Very truly I tell you, no one can enter God's kingdom unless they are born of water and the Spirit.'" "Born of water" is here variously understood as water baptism or by others as the birth waters that break from the "amniotic fluid sac." At birth, there is about one liter or 33 fluid ounces or four cups of amniotic fluid. These are initially electrolytes, but later in the cycle also contain proteins and other compounds to aid in the fetus's growth. For some Christians, "born of water" means being born in the birth waters and later born of the Spirit. "Born of the Spirit" may mean being given new life from the Holy Spirit at birth or for other Christians being converted later as an adult by the Holy Spirit's act, sometimes accompanied by speaking in tongues. The Christian church considers water baptism either by total immersion or sprinkling as a requirement for every Christian disciple.

Water and Spirit Birth

New Born's Foot in Mothers HandBirth can be viewed as the human being's initiation into life, just as baptism is the mark of the soul's entry into the Christian life. The water's breaking signifies the change from a dependent fetus to an independent human being, from one entity in the mother to two separate existences outside of her. Holy Spirit baptism similarly witnesses the spiritual step from darkness into light. At birth, a person unceremoniously launches into human existence. At Holy Spirit baptism, a person ceremonially enters into the community of Christ's Body. What is the Holy Spirit's role at Jesus Christ's baptism? Does baptism mark the beginning of a person's ministry as for Jesus when the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove? In Mark 1.8, John the Baptist proclaims that Jesus "will baptize you with (or "in") the Holy Spirit." In John 1.33, John the Baptist says, "The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit."

Jesus Christ's Baptism

In Matthew 3.11, John the Baptist says, "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." Jesus Christ's baptism could be the first time anyone receives the Holy Spirit's baptism.

"Jesus Christ's Baptism"
by Ron Meacock © 2021

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